[License-discuss] Open source license with obligation to display an attribution?

Christopher Sean Morrison brlcad at mac.com
Wed Dec 5 18:44:44 UTC 2018

> On Dec 5, 2018, at 8:43 AM, Jim Jagielski <jim at jaguNET.com> wrote:
> I am not exactly sure how the wants, needs, and desires of GOSS are different from the entire FOSS community in general... or why it should be accorded "special" treatment or consideration.

This is one of several points of disagreement with government lawyers.  Even if the wants, needs, and desires coincide with FOSS community in general, there are distinct legal situations that are not currently typical outside GOSS due to Title 17 and regulations like ITAR.

Regarding this current attribution thread, consider even a simple obligation to display — I can imagine a number of ways that could run afoul of 31 U.S. Code § 333 (for example) if the contributor or author were simply a Dept. of Treasury government employee.  Certainly, this is not entirely dissimilar from a company simply avoiding a particular license (e.g., AGPL) but the specific case isn’t the point.  It’s that there’s a rather large complex body of laws, regulations, and treaties, particularly at the state-actor level, that don’t affect general public and (due to Title 17) affect nearly every license option.

Many questions are simply legally untested.  What happens to code lacking copyright protection in only some jurisdictions, yet distributed with a license fundamentally structured on copyright?  Will bad things happen if the federal government slaps a copyright statement on their code with an explanation?  Does Berne saying a work typically has reciprocal right protection imply Gov’t codes have full or no protection in a given country?  What happens if a Gov’t office use a license not based on copyright, yet attempts to assert rights Title 17 says are not protected in the US (but *only* in the US)?…

It may very well be the case that there’s nothing legally unique, but there are currently many indications to the contrary.  That’s why there’s still *very* limited participation by government agencies in open source despite them being major creators of source code.  Nobody wants to be the guinea pig.


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